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USB Key Makeovers 


Make Projects 

build, hack, tweak, share, discover, J 

USB Key Makeovers 

Written By: Brian Nadel 


• Hobby knifed) 

• Needle Nose Pliers (1) 

for the ChapStick enclosure 

• Woodworking tools (1) 

for the wood block enclosure. I used a 
saw, vise, drill press, clamp, belt 
sander. sandpaper, and lathe. 


• USB flash drive (1) 

1GB drives are as cheap as $5 now. 
Shop around and you can find them free 
or very close to it after a rebate. 

• Plastic wrap (1) 

• Glued) 

• Something to make a new enclosure (1) 
This can be anything you want. I used a 
plastic finger puppet, a ChapStick 
container, and small blocks of wood. 

• Wood Finish (1) 

if you make the wood block enclosure. I 
used linseed oil. 


Memory sticks lack character. Even the nicest looking ones are more functional than fun. 
But re-skinning a USB flash drive takes only an hour, max, and unlike a PC case mod, you'll 
carry your creation with you. They also make cute gifts ("Thanks for the memories!"). 

So far, I've done a finger puppet, a ChapStick, and 2 wood blocks, but these mini-mods are 

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USB Key Makeovers 

limited only by your imagination. Small toys, wine corks, or even a rabbit's foot are all fair 

The hardest part is removing the case without damaging the circuit board. Most USB keys 
can be pried apart, but some require cutting. Then you just need to find the right cover. 

• A child's finger puppet is one of the easiest flash drive mods. If the circuit board fits, you 
just need to glue it into place. 

» I used a pirate puppet from my son's birthday a few years ago. Its plastic is translucent, 
so the pirate's head glows eerily when the drive's LED indicator shows data moving in and 

• After shelling the drive, I covered its circuit board in plastic wrap so the glue wouldn't 
cause problems. I slipped the board into place, making sure the USB connector had 
enough clearance; 5/8" is generally enough. 

• With the board in position, I squirted in enough silicone to seal it in place. An hour later, it 
was ready to save a few naughty sea shanties. 

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USB Key Makeovers 

• Hiding a flash drive in a ChapStick 
(or other lip balm) case takes a 
little more effort. I started by 
cutting and peeling off the label, to 
make it a plain white tube. You can 
glue on your own label, but I left it 

• Twist the knob to remove all the 
product and its carrier, then yank 
out the central screw with 
needlenose pliers. Finally, as 
before, simply cover the board with 
plastic wrap and glue it into place. 

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USB Key Makeovers 

• Some time ago, my wife bought me a box of hardwood samples, most of which I'd never 
heard of. To house a USB key drive, I picked a piece of African tamboti wood for its dark 
brown color and even grain. A small pine cone or knot would also work. 

• First, I cut the block to roughly the right size. To drill out room for the circuit board, I used 
a small drill press with its stop set about 1/8" from the bottom. Then I drilled another hole 
just big enough to fit the activity indicator LED. This doesn't need to be precise, because 
you can bend the LED's wires to the position needed. 

• Then I shaped the outer surface with a belt sander. To avoid leaving ugly lines, I used 220- 
grit sandpaper and worked with the grain. For the final polish, I hand-sanded using 400-grit 
paper. Then I rough-fit the drive board, wrapped it in plastic, and glued it up. 

• I also did a memory stick makeover using a cylinder of the same wood, which I turned on 
my wood lathe; a pre-made dowel would work just as well. After turning the block round 
and drilling holes for the board and a lanyard, I finished both with a light coating of linseed 
oil for a hand-rubbed luster. 

My modded memory sticks move files with style, but here's a word of warning: they tend to 
disappear. In fact, 3 of the 4 I've made have since been taken by family members, leaving just 
the pirate for me. In other words, as soon as friends and family see your homemade memory 
sticks, they'll want one. 

This project first appeared in MAKE Volume 17 , page 163. 

This document was last generated on 201 2-1 1 -02 1 2:32:07 AM. 

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